Jimbo Blachly: Unperturbed Abstraction
May 27 – September 3 1995
Jimbo Blachly’s installation Unperturbed Abstraction is a constantly evolving work indicating the transformative potential of art and meditation for increasing self-awareness in both physical and psychic space. Combining Eastern traditions of ink painting, techniques of performance art of the late 60s and 70s, and Minimalist abstraction, Unperturbed Abstraction creates a surreal environment that slows down time and encourages reflection within the hectic rush of urban life. Blachly’s work echoes his effort to incorporate artistic production and spiritual practice into daily life. His performative installations way of navigating our complex surroundings: I am always creating a mental field through which I move in the world. This field dissolves and reforms every instant with the introduction of new information/experiences/emotions/sensations. Seemingly free-flowing in certain ways and yet completely bound to time and circumstance.
Without undermining the seriousness of his concerns, Blachly acknowledges the mundane quality of meditative exercises. Yet what is pleasantly unexpected about his work is the absurdist wit and humor with which he undertakes his projects. Unperturbed Abstraction is no exception. Merging simplicity with theatricality, Blachly meditates in the window wearing a monkey suit.
Throughout his work, Blachly uses contradictions to suggest absurdity as in the delicate balance between meditative exercise and obsessive ritual. The simple black and white ink lines form a contemplative environment. The invitation to pause and reflect is reinforced by the mirror in the installation cut to resemble both a cave and a pond, common motifs in Chinese and Japanese ink paintings. The aim of meditation is to clear the mind of all distractions. But as he sits in the window meditating, he produces a ceaselessly expanding volume of drawings and the effect can be visually overwhelming. His aesthetics draw from the styles and motifs of Zen scriptures such as the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Sutra of HuiNeng. The title of the work, Unperturbed Abstraction, is a translation of the Zen Buddhist term Dhyana which can also be translated simply as mediation or absorption. Blachly’s costume refers in part to the frequency of the monkey in Zen scripture as a metaphor for an untrained mind, someone who cannot focus his or her thoughts. Playing on a passage in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra in which a Buddhist monk is ill, Blachly takes his temperature with an oral thermometer, affirming that creating art and meditating can induce spiritual healing, and, at the same time, comically attempting to gauge the speed of his recovery.
Blachly’s work follows the concerns of a broad range of 20th-century artists-from Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt to Bruce Nauman and other artists using performance art in the 1970’s. Both Martin and Reinhardt studied Eastern philosophy and religion and incorporated these interests into their art practices. As in Martin’s large white paintings, the perspectival experience of the viewer completes Blachly’s work. ln this way the installation of his drawings generates a space where the viewer can participate in the process of spiritual practice. Likewise, Reinhardt’s black paintings demand prolonged meditative viewing in order to discern their subtle variations. Unperturbed Abstraction al o recalls Reinhardt’s satirical cartoons which parodied art, the artist, t11e art world, and their relationship to Western society. The over-the-top aspects in Blachly’s work also suggest ties to Bruce Nauman’s performances and videos addressing slapstick qualities in everyday life. As much as Blachly’s monkey suit lampoons spiritual pretensions, it also serves as a playful response to popular dismissals of contemporary art, especially abstract painting. Unperturbed abstraction? Even a monkey can do it! lo a climate of increasing hostility towards the arts and other social and cultural programs, Unperturbed Abstraction wittily concedes the apparent futility of art and meditation while asserting the necessity of continuing to create spaces for reflection.